You've been designing and planning your small farm in your head for years. Now you're ready - you have the time, energy, and land to make your dreams a reality. But the choices can seem overwhelming. So, where do you start?
Is Farming Right for Me?
That's really the first question you need to ask yourself. Some things to think about: what are your reasons behind wanting to farm? What knowledge do you have of farming - the labor, the techniques, how to garden? Will you be able to slaughter an animal, or part with one you've become attached to?
Before you start scouring the local paper for livestock, take a step back. What are your goals for your small farm? What kind of farm are you planning? It might be a hobby farm, where your farm is a supplement to a full-time job, something relaxing you can do for fun in the evenings and on the weekends. It could be that you want your farm to actually make money, eventually replacing your current job. Or, your goal might be to produce all the food (and possibly power) that you and your family need - homesteading or self-sufficiency.
Consider Animals and Crops
A small farm can range from a half-acre with a few laying hens and a small veggie garden, to 40 acres with cattle, dairy cows, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and acres of field crops and veggies. Some of your choices will be limited by your land and resources, but we'll get to that later.
First, let yourself dream. What animals appeal to you? What vegetables, fruits, and grains do you want to grow?
Make a list of everything you envision on your farm - even if it's years from now. This is your dream, your ideal small farm.
Assess Your Land and Resources
This is a great exercise for learning about your land and what's on it. It will give you the information you need to take your vision past Step Two and plan your first year of farming.
Plan The First Year
Here is where you marry your dreams with reality. Look at your list of things you want to grow and animals you want to raise. Read a bit about each animal to get a sense of how much space and care they require. Now check your farm resources. Do you have enough pasture land for those five cows, or will you need to build that over time? Do you have the financial resources to buy fencing for goats?
If you plan to begin a farming business, you'll want to write an entire farm business plan. The dreaming and assessing you just did will help you get started with your mission statement, which is a great place to begin.
Make a One-Year Plan
Monitor and Reassess
Farm planning is an ongoing process, a work in progress. As you implement your plan, you may find it needs adjusting. Every season, take out your list of dreams from Step Two and the pencil-and-paper sketch of your land from Step Three. Have your dreams changed? Is there more to add, or things you now know you don't want to do?
Each year, sit down with your farm plan and decide what you want to tackle during the coming spring, summer and fall. Before you know it, you'll be well on your way to making your small farm dream a reality.